Back in 1973, there were basically five types of car you could buy in North America: small imports, mostly rear wheel drive; big American rear wheel drive sedans, coupes, and wagons; Jeeps, nearly all of which were based on a design created for the Army just before World War II; big commercial vans; and truck-based wagons, not yet called SUVs, like the Jeep Wagoneer and Dodge Ramcharger. There were also imported small cars, in very small numbers, almost all in rear wheel drive.
A small group of designers, engineers, and product planners started working on a new kind of vehicle—a family version of the commercial van, something that would fit into an ordinary garage, would be easy to park and drive, and had levels of comfort unavailable in any regular van (partly because vans’ engines intruded into the passenger compartment). Eventually—a decade later, after the project was rejected at least two times—they would create the front wheel drive, unibody Chrysler minivans. Those big vans paved the way for the profusion of today’s crossovers; before then, only Jeep made “tall wagons” that weren’t based on trucks.
The new Rise and Reinvention of Chrysler Minivans book starts with those days in 1973 when the idea of downsizing the van was first brought up; but that was quickly rejected as impractical. Allpar and Acarplace founder David Zatz takes the reader through the discussions, the ideas, the rejections, and finally the creation of the new minivans (which still didn’t have that name), not just into their birth in 1983 as the 1984 Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, but right to the present day.
The book includes sketches from an early designer, which show how the design went from “miniature van” to an airy, dedicated platform, as well as photos of “clays” and other early design studies.
The minivan market grew to incredible heights and then started to shrink; GM and Ford came and went, and Honda and Toyota came and stayed; and the book traces the path Chrysler took through their long journey to 15 million sales.
Rise and Reinvention of Chrysler Minivans is available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books. The Apple Books ebook as many more photos than the Amazon Kindle version, due to Amazon restrictions. For a limited time, it is also available as a library loan through Overdrive.
The author of Dodge Viper, Jeep’s Wagoneer, Gladiator, Comanche, and Scrambler Go-Anywhere Vehicles, and The Rise and Reinvention of Chrysler Minivans, David Zatz has been writing about cars and trucks since the early 1990s; he also writes on organizational development and business at toolpack.com and covers Mac statistics software at macstats.org. His latest book, for kids, is Meet the Jeep.
David has been quoted by the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Detroit News, and USA Today. You can reach him by using our contact form.